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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care January 2011

Hi Folks,

As we start the New Year, I’d like to talk about the most basic factor of what keeps a cow healthy – her diet. Now that I’ve totally revealed how to treat cows in my latest book, “The Barn Guide to Treating Dairy Cows Naturally”, I feel like delving into other life aspects as they relate to the cow health. Not being in the daily routine of “putting out fires” has enabled me to think about and see things from a fresh angle. Basically, all health and illness truly has it origins in what we eat. It’s not rocket science and it’s something which I’ve always been interested in but never had time to do because of the daily demands of practice. As a practitioner out on farms, it is quite obvious illness will arise when animal living conditions lack fresh air and dry bedding. But for maintaining and enhancing vigorous health, those substances continually ingested and replenishing the physical body which provide for the building blocks of life, day in and day out, are what really counts.

The biology of nutrition and its impact on life is simply immense. I’m not talking so much the quantity of different feeds but the quality and impact of feeds through their bioavailability of feeds, both well made and poorly made. Consider the difference between excellent dry hay versus questionable ensiled feed when digested, absorbed, metabolized, and circulated. What are the impacts on major organs: the brain, eyes, ears, tongue, reticulum, rumen, omasum, abomasum (stomach), pancreas, liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder and uterus as well as impacting major glands: the thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenals, ovaries, udder, testes and prostate. It’s a vast, complex and amazing universe in there. How often do we think about and consider such things? Perhaps we think about one single part when it stands out (like the gut when diarrhea occurs) – but everything is connected to everything else within a body and one part has an impact upon all other parts, no matter how distant. Having learned veterinary medicine, I certainly learned about all the organs and glands as well as muscles and bones in detail, and not only for cows but for horses, dogs, cats and chickens among others. Individual animals certainly deserve more attention from us than seeing her simply as a mouth to feed, a belly, four legs and an udder for milk.

The life of a cow is extremely dynamic, especially when considering the internal mechanisms that make sure that everything is constantly in balance as she produces milk, maintains pregnancy, lays down, stands up, walks around, grazes, and produces urine and manure all during a single 24 hour period. And then she does it again and again constantly throughout life. Multiplying this one cow’s basic needs by however many animals you have - whether lactating, dry, bred young stock, weaned and pre-weaned animals - can surely be overwhelming at times. And just like us, to thrive they need proper nutrition and awareness of each of them as one of God’s creations.

Fortunately it is only those few individuals whose internal mechanisms cannot cope with their situation that show illness. But are there un-seen problems which aren’t being addressed (especially since animals can’t talk)? How best to enhance life – not just exist with a certain amount of constant low level problems - but how best to really live a vibrant, healthy life? Obviously, nutrition and a happy gut are really key.

Individual cells line the intestine and these cells are what admit new material into the body. This is really where “food becomes animal”- once the enzymes, bile and pancreatic secretions act upon the digesta to make it small enough to be either directly absorbed as a liquid solution or as small fat globules that get surrounded and taken in to the cell. The liquid solution of proteins, amino acids and simple sugars are transported from the cell to the liver to be transformed by many more enzyme systems before sending them on to the rest of the body. The engulfed fatty globules are transported through the lymphatic system (without transformation) and dumped into general circulation through the thoracic duct which enters the blood stream near the heart. Then the blood circulation, with each and every heart beat, sends the nutrients out towards distant capillaries that release nutrients to all parts of the body – all the organs, glands, muscles, bones…everything. If the feed taken in is agreeable to the system, the animal should thrive. If the feed taken in is in any way adverse to the system, problems will develop, either slowly or quickly, depending on the offending substances.

For cows, their rumen is also an organ of absorption for volatile fatty acids (VFAs) created during fermentation and which are a major source of energy. And a cow without her rumen is like a horse without its legs – fairly useless in terms of work. We need to remember that the rumen is mainly a fermentation vat full of microbes (bacteria and protozoa) which need to be fed – not just the mouth seen at the feed trough. Fast changes in ration and wide swings of rumen pH due to slug feeding of grain will damage the cow because they damage her helpful rumen bugs. That is why supplemental feeding of high quality probiotics like Bio-Vet’s Rumen-aider and Generator Elite are often very helpful in production situations.

When the intestines are upset, diarrhea occurs. Diarrhea is simply too many ingested fluids and nutrients escaping the digestive tract without being absorbed and utilized. Depending on the cause of diarrhea, it can easily be corrected or it can be very stubborn. Anytime diarrhea strikes, take all ensiled feeds away and only feed dry hay and probiotics for 3 days. If absolutely impossible to do this, feed Charcal (Midwestern Bio-Ag). If there are adverse conditions, the intestinal absorptive cells are not as healthy and the nutrient broth is not absorbed. If there is an active inflammatory process going on (inflammatory bowel disease), the junctions between  the intestinal cells becomes very leaky and foreign substances are accidentally absorbed, which can trigger the body’s immune system to be constantly activated and produce antigen-antibody complexes. In the long run this can cause all sort of problems throughout the body. In Johnes disease (one specific type of inflammatory bowel disease), the original germs that attached to the gut of the calf cause more and more immune reaction over time at the gut lining area, which then thickens the intestinal lining, thus hindering normal reabsorption of the nutrient broth from the intestinal canal. Then the long-term diarrhea wastes the animal away.

It is well established that oats improve gut health, in humans, horses, cows, dogs, and cats – pretty much every mammal. From a production standpoint, a study in western Canada (Fuhr, 2006) using barley, traditional oats and a new oat with a low lignan hull, high oil groat (LHH-HOG), cows fed about 20 pounds of either type of oats yielded as much milk, butterfat and protein as cows fed the same amount of barley. The newer oat was more digestible than the conventional oat. Except for proline and glutamic acid, oats had a higher amino acid content for the other 14 amino acids than did barley. Both kinds of oats also had higher levels of phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, copper, manganese, molybdenum and iron than did barley. Cows also spent more time eating oats than barley and had more cud chewing with the oats, thus oats contributing to better buffering capacity. Oats have a unique advantage over other cereals in having a higher lipid (fat) content which is in the endosperm and available, therefore giving more energy per individual grain than other grains. Feeding more gut friendly energy with extra minerals like oats would sound like a good idea. Organic oats are available. It would seem that substituting oats for barley might be a smart and easy way to improve basic digestive health and thus overall health.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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